I miss my dad. I miss my father-in-law. And if I stretch my memory back to 1969, I miss my first father-in-law. And what about my beloved grandpas? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend just an hour with each of them as they were just before we lost them? Here’s a short tribute to each of these honorable men and what they meant to me.
My dad, Sidney Wolfson, was generally a quiet man. But when he did say something, you could guarantee it would be witty and succinct. And I always knew he was on my side, even though marital peace required that he didn’t express that when I had a disagreement with my mother. I’m proud of his career rise from mailman to foreman to Director, Customer Service—third in command in the Chicago Post Office. My dad was a fair, honest person. His employees knew that he would treat them well, and if they did screw up, he’d let them know and show them how to do better. They respected him. The fact that almost 600 people showed up at his retirement party (at their own expense) is a testament to that respect. He passed away in 1997.
My father-in-law, Earl “Tommy” Thompson, the youngest of a large Oklahoma family, won a wrestling scholarship to the University of Illinois in Urbana. To help with expenses, he took a job as a cook in one of the campus buildings. By the time I joined the family, he was doing the cooking, giving my mother-in-law a break. He was a kind and caring man, but kept quiet most of the time, much like my dad. In fact, both of them were born in the same year, two days apart. If you give any credence to astrology, it’s something to think about. Tommy’s career was in high school sports. He was the athletic director and a coach and was able be tough but fair coaching the teenage boys with surging hormones. He passed away in 2002.
My first father-in-law, Albert Feingold, was also a quiet man, maybe the quietest of them all. He too was a caring and kind man whom I would have loved to get to know even better if he had not suffered first a stroke and then,months later, a fatal heart attack at the age of 55. That was in 1969. The last time I saw him was at my younger daughter’s second birthday party. It was a momentous day for the nation too, as the first moonwalk was taking place on live TV. Two days later he was gone.
My paternal grandfather, Ben Wolfson, was a man of few words. (See a pattern here?) To be fair, English was not his first language, but by the time I came into his life, he had mastered it pretty well. He spoke fluent Yiddish and probably Russian, as his family came here from Kiev. We spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents when I was very young and lived with them for two years when my father was drafted in World War II. Still, I don’t know that much about my grandfather. It was my grandmother I was close to then and well into my adulthood. What I remember most about my grandfather was how he greeted me every time we came over. He uttered the same Yiddish phrase in the same way. I would love to say exactly what it was, but I can only remember what it sounded like: Zein for the bay-nu. That’s a rough pronunciation from my very rough and failing memory. Anyone who knows Yiddish is welcome to try to interpret what he was saying. At the same time, he opened his arms wide and said, in English, “Give Grandpa a kiss!” I did, but it hurt. Grandpa had that bristly five-o-clock shadow. We lost him, suddenly, when he collapsed and died of a heart attack in 1961 at a young 68 years of age.
My maternal grandfather, Louis Brooks, was a handsome man and a talented tailor. Was he quiet too? I don’t know because he died when I was 4. I would have loved to know him better, but we didn’t visit him that often. We lived in Albany Park, and he lived on the west side (or was it the south side; this is another example of a question my mother could easily answer). It was a long ride on the street car (yes, I’m that old), and even if we were able to drive there, with no expressways and 1940-era roads, it would still take forever. The last time I saw him was an unpleasant occasion. He had suffered a massive stroke, and my mother and I traveled to his apartment (on the street car) so she could help take care of him. When I walked in, I saw him lying in bed, arms and legs splayed, with a look on his face that told us he was dying. I wish I could erase that memory and substitute others, but it’s stayed with me for all of my life. Grandpa Brooks was a tailor—an excellent one. He made me several outfits, but the one I remember is a navy blue spring coat and matching hat. I have photos of me in that outfit. I wish I knew where we stashed them. And that’s the reason there’s no photo of him here. It’s in an album in the box that’s stashed somewhere in our basement, garage, or a place I haven’t thought of yet.
What would I say to these wonderful men if I had another hour with them? I would ask them about their early lives, about their hopes and dreams, including those that never came true. But most important, I would tell them how much they meant to me.
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and those who provide fatherly wisdom and support.